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Texting and Driving–Criminal Justice Minute

Driving a car in Texas is a privilege, not a right. Public policy enforced by The Department of Public Safety requires Texas drivers to be properly licensed, financially responsible, and obedient to the Transportation Code. When we receive a driver’s license, we agree to comply with those requirements, and we reasonably expect others to do so. After all, our lives, and even the future of our families, are at stake each time we get into a car either as a driver or a passenger. When a driver does not comply, they can end up in court.

Let’s talk about three scenarios that aren’t the typical “traffic ticket driving offense:” Racing, Reckless Driving and Texting

Picture Driver 1 approaching an intersection with a red light. Just before they get there Driver 2 whips in front of her for no apparent reason, making her brake abruptly. She gets mad, and when the lights turns green, Driver 1 swings out in the next lane over, speeds up ahead and cuts back in front of Driver 2 to recapture her lane position. Driver 2 now gets mad and speeds up to recapture his previous position ahead of Driver 1. This scenario is an serious traffic offense called Racing on a Highway, it happens a lot, and sadly it is often a precursor to Road Rage. It is a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to 6 months in jail and a fine. A second offense is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to 1 year in jail and a fine, and if someone is intoxicated or causes an accident while doing this, its a felony. A police officer observing this road contest, or any drag race between two or more cars, or if the officer receives credible information from a witness about it, he can arrest all the drivers.

Now, imagine your newly licensed 18 year old high school student driving the family car to run an errand for you. He picks up his neighborhood buddy along the way and his buddy suggests that your son “peel out, burn some rubber, spin a doughnut” in your new car in the neighborhood intersection or even in a grocery store parking lot, or to drive at an unsafe speed, making screeching, too-fast turns on corners. This dangerous scenario is a serious traffic offense called Reckless Driving, and its a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and fine. Again, a police officer observing this kind of unsafe driving or receiving credible information from a witness about it can arrest the driver.

Finally, imagine you are driving to an important appointment and are delayed by the ubiquitous road work we encounter in Houston. You are now very late for that appointment, and when the road work clears and you are under way driving again, you pull out your cell phone and start texting your meeting partner to tell her you’re running late. On September 1, 2017, this will be a Class C traffic violation punishable by a fine of $25 to $99 for a first offense, up to $200 for a second offense, or if an accident involving serious bodily injury or death occurred during the transmission or receipt of a text, it could be a felony offense. There may be a defense to prosecution if the car was stationary at the time, or if the driver was using a hands-free device, reporting illegal activity or summoning emergency help, reading a message that the driver reasonably believed involved an emergency, activating music functions or using a GPS function.

Why tempt fate in your car in any of these scenarios? Accidents can and do happen in the blink of an eye, so please follow these laws, drive friendly, and arrive alive!

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